Metroplus

Indo-Brit music masala

Members of the band Swami that recently launched the album Upgrade  

Musicians do not like to be marked by boundaries; theyprefer to be cultural travellers. Birmingham-based DJ Swami’s pop electronic band, which has predominantly bhangra influences, sums up in sounds his Indian roots, Western upbringing and crazy love for Bollywood. The band recently launched in India its latest album Upgrade. Through it, Swami once again wants to reassert the strong, twin influences of his life — Jimi Hendrix and Pandit Ravi Shankar. They were the reasons he grew up learning and playing the guitar and sitar.

Clubs and studios are where Swami has spent most of his life. He began as a DJ but sought fame by writing chart-scaling numbers for cousin Apache Indian. It gave him the confidence to form a band that explored progressive music by fusing rock, rap, folk, funk and bhangra. Meanwhile, he took time out to tour as a guitarist with Boyzone and Robbie Williams for a few months before joining his producer-friend on one of Shania Twain’s albums.

Swami gets into rewind mode to talk about the making of Upgrade and his formula-free tunes.

With changing musical tastes and with the coming in of new genres, how have you been able to sustain listeners’ interest in your pop-bhangra blend?

Pop and bhangra make for a natural mix. Growing up in a multi-cultural environment in Birmingham, I became interested in all kinds of music from dance to rock to reggae. As a DJ and a music producer, I understood what kind of music makes people dance. The genres may change, but the psychology of making people move on the dance floor and sing along to a catchy tune will remain.

What is the response to the East-West cultural synthesis in your works?

You have spoken about drawing inspiration from various Indian classical artistes and pop singers. Where do you see a meeting point between the two in your recordings and performances?

I grew up listening to not only a lot of Indian music at home but also pop through my British friends in school. I spent many years studying guitar and sitar scales and ragas. Our songs are written in English but the Indian influences always come naturally. This is something we find very exciting as it is organic. It is part of our identity. However, we never try to alienate our International audience and always focus on melodies, lyrics and rhythms that have a global appeal. In the studio, we often do English mixes, club remixes and unplugged versions whereas when performing live we instantly sync with the audience.

How much has DJing eejaying allowed you to explore and experiment?

DJing is very different from my formal training as a musician. There are no rules when it comes to DJing and I like that.

You can mix ideas that might not be musically correct but it might just sound great! DJing really opened my eyes to always being conscious of the crowd that is right in front of you. I think about this even when I am in the studio. It makes you fully aware of how people respond naturally to music.

What is special about Upgrade ?

Upgrade is the only word that could describe the new sound of Swami. It is fresh, new, different and unique. We make music we don’t hear but want to hear. This album has been four years in the making and has been written in the UK, USA, Canada, India and France. It is our most ambitious project yet with English, Punjabi and Hindi lyrics. The musical texture of our single and video ‘Do It Again’ totally captures the essence of Upgrade. From the opening sarangi riff processed through a guitar distortion to synth filters, you immediately know something different is about to happen. When the track hits you with pumping EDM beats and Hindi, English and Punjabi melodies and lyrics seamlessly flowing into each other, it is a breath of fresh air for us musically. It definitely has a wow factor for us as a band.


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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 11:56:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/dj-swami-interview-upgrade/article6622089.ece

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